MEDLAND: How to rebuild an F1 team during a pandemic

Image by Mauger/Motorsport Images

MEDLAND: How to rebuild an F1 team during a pandemic

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MEDLAND: How to rebuild an F1 team during a pandemic

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If you’re a team member at Racing Point, you probably feel like you can’t catch a break.

The Force India years were generally a struggle, although there were weekends when the team delivered impressive results against a backdrop of financial uncertainty. Then came the collapse of the team followed by the takeover from Lawrence Stroll’s consortium, and with it, fresh investment that allowed the team to deliver a pink W10 that could well prove to be a podium contender. But that car has yet to turn a wheel in anger due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the potential of the car on track is big this year, the team’s outlook away from the track is even brighter thanks to Stroll’s latest investment.

Now as the executive chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda, Stroll is strengthening those businesses by rebranding Racing Point as the Aston Martin F1 Team from 2021 onwards, and it’s a timeline that is still being stuck to even though the world is largely on pause right now.

Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer admits much of the progress towards becoming the Aston Martin works team has been confined to planning meetings so far, but there has been no dip in the level of excitement about its future.

“There have been a lot of discussion and planning meetings with Aston Martin to see how we integrate the two entities, because they’re coming back into Formula 1 and we’re gaining a great name,” Szafnauer told RACER.

“So lots of things have been happening, from planning the new factory to integrating their designers into our new factory, and what the look and feel of not just the new factory but the entire team looks like. We’ve got to change from Racing Point to Aston Martin, so loads and loads of planning meetings. And after the planning decisions are made, we’ve got to start implementing.”

The problem right now is that as the team gets closer to that implementing stage, the situation outside does not allow it to push ahead with all of its plans. But that doesn’t mean a complete halt to the transition work.

“It’s a little bit on hold, because everybody’s working from home and some of the things that we were planning to do can’t start because people aren’t really starting on construction projects,” Szafnauer says. “The country has shut down. So that’s gone sideways, but some of the planning meetings are continuing, and it’s just a matter of time as to when we start up again.”

One of the most crucial and obvious developments for Racing Point – even before the Aston involvement was confirmed – was the decision to construct a new team factory at Silverstone. Groundwork on a 15,000 square meter facility was due to start in the first quarter of this ear and be finished during the summer break of next season, but the pandemic hit before building could commence.

The new factory will be finished late, but Szafnauer says the rest of Racing Point’s integration with Aston Martin is rolling ahead even with everybody working from home. Image by Dunbar/Motorsport Images

That means it is likely to be the end of 2021 at the earliest – and therefore not in time for the 2022 car build – before the new factory is ready for Aston Martin to move in.

“I don’t think it hampers it, I just think it delays it,” Szafnauer says. “It delays our inevitable. We’re working on a critical path to finish the new factory in August of 2021, and I think that’s not going to be achievable now. I don’t think we’re going to be able to compress it by two or three months.

“I still don’t know when we’re coming out of this. It’s been from the middle of March, maybe the third week of March – could it go to the third week of May? It could do. And if that’s the case, then there’s two months there. For us to be able to take two months out of a build is going to be really difficult when the build was very tight already.”

Since initial planning permission was granted last year, Szafnauer says the rebranding to Aston Martin has led to the need for “a significant amount of change” with the factory plans in order to achieve consistency between the existing Aston facility and the future F1 division, but on that front the timing of the pandemic has almost been helpful.

“The nice thing is, we have a big chunk of land there, 30 acres, so adding on and changing the look and feel was pretty easy because it was all on paper. But it was (significant); we had to integrate over 100 more Aston Martin people – about 120 – as well as emulate the look and feel of their factory in Gaydon, because we want everything to be coordinated and aligned, and one to compliment the other.

“So all those kinds of changes were made and they weren’t insignificant, but when you’re making them on paper before you start the build, it’s pretty easy to do and pretty easy to adjust.”

Perhaps it’s wrong to say that Racing Point team members will be feeling hard done by, though. When all is said and done, Szafnauer – who has been with the team through thick and thin – says it is special to be part of rebuilding the team toward a clear identity for the future.

“I’m incredibly excited,” he says. “It’s a great name with a lot of history – 107 years – and apart from Ferrari, to me it’s probably the second-most iconic name on the grid, with all due respect to everyone else we race against.”

With that iconic name comes high expectations; ones that Szafnauer will not look to dampen even amid the ongoing challenges that are currently slowing progress.

“We’d like to race against the top three, so either implant ourselves as being one of the top three or expand that into the top four, and that’s got to be our goal as Aston Martin,” he says. “To do the best job we can to get closer to the top three, and race with them.”

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